Here are some things I think about the Philadelphia Eagles after having some time to stew on last week’s Carson Wentz trade.
1 - I think it’s unfortunate this point was reached
It was never supposed to happen like this.
The guy the Eagles traded up to draft at No. 2 overall, the guy who was playing at an MVP level in 2017, the guy whose peers voted him as the third best player in the NFL, the guy the Eagles signed to a $128 million contract extension, the guy who put the team on his back in the final four games of 2019 ... he was supposed to be here for his entire career. Not traded to a new team less than two months after his 28th birthday.
With all due respect to Nick Foles and the magical 2017 run, I can’t help but wonder about an alternate timeline where Wentz never gets hurt and the Eagles win the Super Bowl with him starting instead. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking but maybe things play out differently where he only continues to excel after that season. Maybe Patrick Mahomes is playing second fiddle to Wentz in the national conversation about the new generation of elite quarterbacks.
I truly counted myself among Wentz’s biggest believers for most of his career, and as recently as heading into the 2020 season. But last year’s struggles made me realize I was too dismissive of previous Wentz criticism. His lack of improvement in key areas (accuracy, fumbling) crystallized the accounts about his reluctance to take to hard coaching.
I still maintained some level of hope for Wentz at the time of his benching. I thought he might be humbled by that experience. But, instead, there seemed to be an air of defiance. Wentz reportedly complained internally about his benching and his camp leaked that he wanted to be traded if Hurts continued to start. Those were not signals from an accountable player who was reflecting on his own contributions to the team’s struggles.
And so all confidence was lost in a player who once had the potential (or at least so we thought) to become one of the most beloved and iconic Eagles in franchise history.
Clearly, I can’t speak for everyone’s Wentz experience. There were those who were way out on him prior to 2020. And there are those still who fully believe in him! Regardless of these differences, it’s a shame the Wentz era didn’t end up being more successful than it was.
2 - I think Wentz leaves a complicated legacy behind
Picking up from the last point, the Wentz era was hardly a total failure. The Eagles won their only Super Bowl when he was a significant part of the team!
Sure, he didn’t play in the final 6.25 games (one of which was meaningless) of that 2017 season. But he threw his 33rd touchdown pass on a torn ACL and left the field with the lead (!) to help the Eagles beat the Los Angeles Rams to advance to 11-2. From there, the Eagles merely had to beat a 2-12 New York Giants team and a 6-8 Oakland Raiders squad to officially clinch home-field advantage in the NFC playoff picture. Foles and the rest of the team obviously did a great job from there but the Eagles don’t win a Vince Lombardi Trophy without Wentz being part of the equation.
For that, Wentz should be cheered when he returns to the stadium in 2037 for the Eagles commemorating the 20th anniversary of their first (and hopefully not only) Super Bowl team.
But Wentz shouldn’t expect such a warm welcome if/when he returns to Lincoln Financial Field as a player for another team. Wentz ultimately owns his fair share of the blame for the Eagles’ downfall since winning a championship. And while you may think it harsh, the reality is he quit on the Eagles. He wanted out when the going got tough.
Can I understand why Wentz, as a human being, didn’t want to be part of the mess he’s leaving behind? Of course. The Eagles currently don’t have a very bright outlook. The roster is old, bad, expensive, and inflexible thanks in no small part to poor personnel decisions from Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman. The new coaching staff is largely unproven.
But it’s incumbent upon a leader to help right the ship when things go awry, not tuck their tail and give up at the first sign of adversity. Wentz turned his back on an organization that made a lot of effort — to a fault, even — to cater to him.
It’s hard not to feel like Wentz was too scared and/or too entitled to accept returning and competing for the starting job. It’s hard not to feel like Wentz believed the Eagles were wrong for benching him, even though it really should’ve happened even sooner with how poorly he was playing.
I can’t blame anyone with hard feelings towards Wentz. I can’t blame anyone for booing him as an opposing player.
Personally, I’m just relieved he’s gone and the Eagles will be turning the page.
3 - I think the Eagles share blame for the Wentz breakup
Don’t get it twisted. Just because I’ve been critical of Wentz doesn’t mean the team isn’t to blame for his downfall and departure. It’s always important to acknowledge that more than one thing can be true.
The Eagles certainly made efforts to surround Wentz with more talent. But, man, some of them were pretty poorly executed! Drafting J.J. Arcega-Whiteside over D.K. Metcalf and Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson were obvious failures. Relying on DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery the past two years was unwise. The Eagles took not investing in running back to an extreme that led Wentz to have the league’s worst backfield in 2018.
Oh, and then there was the Jalen Hurts pick. Just when it looked like Wentz had exorcised his demons and stepped out of the Foles shadow late in 2019, the team repaid him by drafting a potential successor with the No. 53 overall pick. That had to be pretty frustrating!
Of course, the Eagles drafting Hurts doesn’t justifiably excuse Wentz’s struggles. The veteran quarterback could’ve responded to the situation much better than he did.
But perhaps an even bigger issue than making poor personnel decisions was how the Eagles enabled their entitled quarterback. Though the Hurts pick might suggest otherwise, there’s ample evidence to suggest the Eagles allowed too much latitude to a player whose production didn’t warrant such influence. Wentz wasn’t properly held accountable, which fostered an environment for a player who earned a reputation for being uncoachable.
And it’s not like Wentz was the first member of the Eagles to be at the heart of an internal power imbalance. Lurie once allowed Chip Kelly to overstep his bounds. Andy Reid rediscovered top form in Kansas City when he got away from being too involved in personnel like he was in Philly.
The bottom line is the Eagles created an environment in which their once-franchise quarterback wanted out. It was also an environment that allowed their Super Bowl-winning head coach to be OK with being fired. These are clear signs of organizational failure.
4 - I think the Eagles won’t regret this trade
Given the limited market (pretty much one team!) for Wentz, I think what the Eagles got in return for him was reasonable. Assuming the Eagles can effectively utilize the selections they received, which is FAR from guaranteed, they can use a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick (that might turn into a first-round pick) to assist their rebuild.
That the Eagles got value in return for a player who was questionable to be “fixed” in Philly was a good thing. There was some reasonable expectation that Wentz wouldn’t be quite AS bad as he was in 2020 moving forward. But I fail to see how one could be very confident in him getting back on track given what we’ve heard about him being uncoachable.
Wentz has multiple fatal flaws that should be very concerning moving forward. He hasn’t been able to fix fumbling issues (59 in 69 games!) that date back to him entering the NFL. He’s not very good at throwing the football exactly where it needs to be, as evidenced by his poor finishes in accuracy metrics. His leadership ability has been called into question more than once.
Maybe Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts will find a way to revitalize Wentz and make it work. I can’t say such an outcome is impossible. I think the more likely best-case scenario, though, is that Wentz turns out to be a quarterback the Colts can “win with” as opposed to one they’re going to “win because of.”
Unless Wentz looks downright elite in Indy, which doesn’t seem likely, I don’t expect the Eagles to really regret making this trade. They couldn’t feel amazing about moving forward with a broken quarterback who didn’t even want to be here. Moving on now was the only real option. It wasn’t like it was as simple as bringing him back for one more year since $15 million of his 2022 salary becomes fully guaranteed this March. The Eagles basically had to pick between either zero or two more years of Wentz and, for once, they made the right choice.
5 - I think the Eagles still have plenty of problems remaining
Wentz was a big problem, no doubt. But he was hardly the only one. Getting rid of him doesn’t fix much if the Eagles can’t find a new franchise quarterback and then build an adequate supporting system around him. How much faith can there be in Lurie and Roseman to do as much when they ultimately failed to do so with Wentz?
6 - I think there’s some nuance to rooting against the Colts next year
As far as the Eagles’ interests are concerned, the ideal outcome is that Wentz stays healthy to meet the 75% snaps played threshold and the Colts struggle next season. Such a scenario would allow Philly to get a good first-round pick from Indy in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Of course, the conditional pick motivates the Colts to bench Wentz if they’re losing a lot and he’s playing as poorly as he did in 2020. So, the Eagles need Wentz to play well enough to not get benched but not too well that the pick is in the late 20s or 30s.
The early guess here is the Colts will go something like 10-7 or 9-8 (assuming a 17-game schedule) next year. Depending on how the Colts fare in the playoffs, the Eagles will probably get a first-round pick around No. 25. That’s accounting for a divisional-round loss.
7 - I think Jalen Hurts deserves a real chance to start in 2021
No one can say with certainty that Hurts is a legitimate franchise quarterback. One can hope that to be true but it’s far from certain.
On the whole, Hurts simply did not throw the ball well as a rookie. As we previously pointed out:
We’re talking about a player who finished 40th out of 42 quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus grading and 31st out of 37 quarterbacks in Football Outsiders DVOA. Hurts posted a 26.7% bad throw percentage and a 60.7% on target throw percentage. For context, Drew Lock finished as the worst quarterback among qualified passers last season with 22.9% and 68.9%, respectively. This is to say that Hurts was significantly worse than the worst marks.
In fairness to Hurts, though, some of his inaccuracy can be attributed to how he was an aggressive thrower. He attempted the seventh-highest percentage of deep throws last year (20+ yards), according to Pro Football Focus. Hurts was also a 22-year-old rookie who didn’t have the benefit of a real offseason or a system specifically designed around him as a starter. Another thing to consider is that first-year quarterback performance isn’t always indicative of future success.
For all his struggles, Hurts did flash potential when he played:
Jalen Hurts is far from a perfect quarterback. But there are people talking like he didn’t show any potential as a rookie, it’s crazy!— Anthony DiBona (@ByADiBona) February 22, 2021
Just look at some of these throws. Hurts absolutely deserves a chance to be the #Eagles starting QB and see what he can do with the opportunity. pic.twitter.com/XPO2RtGpwn
I’d like to see Hurts get a real chance to start in 2021. It’s hard not to love what we’ve heard about his character in terms of leadership and being coachable. If the Eagles are going to fail with him, it’s because he’s simply not talented enough. That’s arguably more stomachable than the Eagles failing with a quarterback like Wentz, who couldn’t get out of his own way.
If the Eagles were closer to being in “win now” mode, I’d probably be more reluctant to see them merely hand the starting job to Hurts. But with the expectation that they’re not seriously competing for a Super Bowl in 2021 anyway, they should give Hurts a look. If he’s anything less than convincing as a full-time starter, they should be able in position to acquire another quarterback next year. If he proves to be the answer, great!
8 - I think there’s a key to the Eagles’ approach to taking a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft
Although I prefer the Eagles to ride with Hurts, I’m not opposed to them selecting a quarterback high in the 2021 NFL Draft. A team without a sure-fire answer at quarterback must do all they can — even if it might be overkill — to secure that solution.
With that said, the Eagles should NOT draft a quarterback just to draft one. I think the Eagles would be mistaken to draft a player merely because he’s a better prospect than Hurts. That basis alone isn’t good enough. They should only draft one if they truly believe the player possesses elite potential.
Now, will such a player be available to them? That much remains to be seen. We’ll be taking a closer look at this year’s quarterback prospects ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft in late April.